July 1, 2015
All photos copyright 2015 Daniel Coston
Safe travels, Charlie.
THE CYRKLE: STILL SHINING
BY DANIEL COSTON
In 1966, The Cyrkle and “Red Rubber Ball” caught the attention of the world. As an American group to be managed by Brian Epstein, the band watched as “Red Rubber Ball” went to No. 2 on the American charts, kept out of No. 1 by Epstein’s biggest clients, The Beatles. The Cyrkle then toured with The Beatles that summer and went on to have another hit that fall with “Turn Down Day.”
On October 2, The Cyrkle will release their first new single in 52 years. It will sound very familiar to many listeners. The band’s new version of “Red Rubber Ball” retains all of the hallmarks of the band’s classic sound. Along with the band’s new video for the song, the new version is like the return of an old friend, after too many years away.
In addition to new versions of “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day”, the band also recorded new versions of fan favorites, and “Feelin’ Groovy,” the song that the band turned down in 1966. The new songs will also be part of a new album that the band is planning to record in 2021.
Founding vocalist and guitarist Don Dannemann, and longtime keyboardist and vocalist Mike Losekamp fill in the details on the new songs, alongside current members Pat McLoughlin, Scott Langley and Don White.
Coston: What was like to be part of a Cyrkle recording session, after all these years?
PAT MCLOUGHLIN: For me, this is a surreal dream coming true. Historically, The Cyrkle had a remarkable, albeit short recording legacy and now I have the honor of being a part of that legacy. The recordings sound wonderful, fresh and has that one element that you can only hope will occur and that is magic.
DON DANNEMANN: It was an up and down event for me. I have a belief that the value of groups in our age range is the wonderful memories that come back when hearing our music. And since the original recording is alive and well, why bother to try and duplicate magic? It turned out to be a nice bonding experience with the group. And it turned out to have been the last time we were all together as the coronavirus hit. In trying to duplicate “Red Rubber Ball,” I found that we missed some important elements in our initial recording. I went back and forth with Rusty Yanok, our recording engineer, on minute aspects of the song, including adding some guitar overdubs in my home studio and sending him the files. But all that work produced a very good new recording of “Red Rubber Ball” that I and the group can be proud of.
MIKE LOSEKAMP: I was excited in the days leading up to that first day of recording. Recording in a professional studio for the first time since 1973 was a real thrill for me!
SCOTT LANGLEY: This was the coolest thing ever for me as a musician. It's always been an honor to be part of The Cyrkle and add to the legacy of the band. These guys have become like family, so to get to do this together has been great fun. Studio work is always challenging as a drummer, playing clean tracks, capturing the right feel, getting the right sounds, all while keeping the tempo together. But for this band, there's an extra layer because everything has to be right. Not every day right, but Cyrkle right.
DON WHITE: Definitely an honor. It doesn't hurt that I truly enjoy playing the songs.
Coston: What’s remarkable is that once the intro and first verse kicks in, it’s obvious that it’s The Cyrkle. What makes the sound of the band so unique?
PM: A goodly amount of the credit goes to Don Dannemann, who has his own, very special unique style as an artist. My initial recognition of this fact was literally at our very first band practice. This was the practice to determine if all of the members could work together and sound great. We were working on a Paul Simon song called “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” We did the song a couple of times and we quickly began to sound like The Cyrkle, and not Harpers Bizarre or Simon and Garfunkel. I turned to Don Dannemann and said, “Now I know why The Cyrkle sounded like The Cyrkle. It’s because of you!” This is not to discount the other original member, Mike Losekamp. Mike is a real musician and can break a song down to individual parts quickly and accurately. He of course had all the parts distributed to the other band members and obviously he knew his role from the band’s hey-day. It absolutely worked in aces.
DD: After “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day,” we were recording a promo for The United Way and the producer John Simon, as he listened to the recording, said, “Don is the sound of The Cyrkle.” In our recent recordings, as I was singing the lead on one of them, the guys commented that as soon as I started doubling my voice it immediately sounded like The Cyrkle. I’m blessed to still have that voice.
ML: I believe it’s the vocals. Don Danemann’s lead vocal and my adding the second part creates two part harmony and The Cyrkle’s unique sound. Then the added intricate harmonies really get the listeners’ attention.
DW: Don and Mike have a lot to do with it. Their feel has rubbed off, for sure.
Coston: The response to the single and new video has been resounding positive. People still want to feel better, which “Red Rubber Ball” still does.
SL: At first, I thought a video might be more effort than it was worth, but boy was I wrong! The response has been fantastic and it's really awesome how people react to that song. If we somehow made someone's day a little brighter, it was all worth it.
DD: When “Red Rubber Ball” first became a hit, I thought of it as a cute song. But based on meeting fans since our revival I’ve come to appreciate “Red Rubber Ball” as one of the great feel good anthems of the 1960s. Three typical comments that I always hear are, one, it was my first 45 and we played it to death, two, the upbeat feeling got me through my divorce, and three, military personnel who often say “Red Rubber Ball” got them through many battles in Vietnam. We always get standing ovations for “Red Rubber Ball” at our concerts. So whether it’s the original recording, our live performance, or the new recording and video, I’m proud to be a part of this upbeat anthem that has meant so much to many thousands of people.
PM: My personal reaction is a sense of accomplishment. I have always been a goal oriented person, but to successfully reach your most cherished dream means that you have to fail often, and you have to take risks all along the way. That can, as it did in my case, take decades to finally reach the acme of what I set out to accomplish as an artist, songwriter and entertainer. So now, to hear and read about so many positive reactions to both the video and the new recording is very, very gratifying. It took over fifty years, literally starting in my bedroom, where I pretended to be in the band, playing my air guitar and singing along with the song, to actually becoming a contributing artist on that same song. It is a sense of reaching a state of self-actualization.
ML: Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley’s lyrics from “Red Rubber Ball” of, “I think it’s gonna be alright, yea the worst is over now” really are appropriate in the Covid era and still lift my spirits!
Coston: You not only recorded “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day,” but you also re-recorded a fan favorite, “The Visit,” with Mike Losekamp on vocals. Mike, what it is like to record this song again?
ML: “The Visit” is very special to me. It was my first lead vocal I recorded in a professional studio, which was Columbia Studios, in New York City in 1967, and an experience I will never forget. To have the chance to record it again and improve on the original, via the most modern recording techniques and equipment, was a dream come true.
PM: I would like to add that ‘The Visit,” although never released as an A side single, has been one of the most requested songs from the original Cyrkle catalog. It is not uncommon to have someone approach us about using the song in a movie. We even had a request from a rap artist who wanted to sample the song within his own recording. So, the song’s impact was far greater than I believe the original lineup ever visualized. And if I may state my humble opinion, the new version stays true to the original, but has a better arrangement, performance and sonic mix, than the original cut heard on the band’s Neon album.
Coston: You’ve also recorded “Feelin’ Groovy,” a song that The Cyrkle turned down, originally. What is it like to finally have this song be recorded by The Cyrkle?
DD: In our show, I talk about the brain freeze that occurred when Paul Simon offered the song to us. I love that we’re now making the recording that we should have made 54 years ago. I believe what we’re doing now is close to what we would’ve done back then. Once again, as with “Red Rubber Ball,” I’ve been back and forth with engineer Rusty Yanok fine tuning the performance and mix. I’ve asked for some drum replays, some vocal fixes, playing around with how much reverb to add to the vocals, and one more thing that I really hope will be a wonderful addition. I’ve asked our bass player Mike Shoaf to take the attitude that our original bassist Tommy Dawes had in “Turn Down Day.” “Turn Down Day” has a wonderful bass line that is almost like a guitar solo. I thought there might be a place in “Feelin’ Groovy” to do that same thing, not trying to copy but just having fun with some cool and noticeable bass lines. Shoaf did that, Rusty sent me a few takes, and I did a little editing to make it even better. We are presently fine tuning exactly where to put it in the mix.
ML: Another great Paul Simon composition! My recollection of the reasoning behind forgoing that song is that we had already made the decision that “Please Don’t Ever Leave Me” would be the third Cyrkle single release. I’m not sure why we didn’t add it to the Neon album. I'm happy we are performing it as part of our concerts and will have it released in the near future.
PM: This to me is very important as it relates to The Cyrkle’s legacy. Some musical historians have suggested that not recording and releasing “Feelin’ Groovy” when it was personally offered to the band by Paul Simon, ranks as one of the top ten blunders of all time. To me, we are at last going to amend history. It will be a brand new single, which is the band’s first in over fifty years, to be released as a single in early 2021, backed with “The Visit.” My goal will be to see if our version will climb the charts as the original did.
SL: This is the one I really wanted to see us record. It's like having a "new," "old" Cyrkle song and the current guys in the group got to record it! I can't wait for everyone to hear it. It really feels like the way The Cyrkle would have done it back then.
Coston: Do you all have plans for a new full-length album?
DD: We’ve been greatly encouraged by fans to do a full length album. A few tracks were started and several more songs are being considered, but the process is on hold due to the coronavirus.
ML: We do! We have already begun recording new Cyrkle original material written by myself, Don Dannemann, Pat McLoughlin and Mike Shoaf. We will be working hard to complete the album but will take the time to create a collection we can all be proud of.
DW: We have plans for ten songs.
PM: We do, and we all cannot wait to get back to the studio once the pandemic concerns have been resolved. We have a ton of pent up energies that need to be expressed musically. The new album should have elements of the traditional sound of The Cyrkle, with a more advanced musical direction reflective of growing as adults over fifty years. Don Dannemann will have a majority of original content on the new album, as well he should, but he has been more than generous in allowing all of us to include a few of our own compositions on the album. He was open to having an eclectic product to deliver, and his open-minded attitude will enable that to become a reality. It also gives the audience an opportunity to not only hear some of Mike Losekamp’s compositions, but also to give him more vocal exposure than he had when he was a member of the original lineup. The Cyrkle is blessed to have a sizeable collection of great singers within the current lineup, but what might surprise even our oldest fans is that he is the most gifted singer in the band. We are hopeful that this approach will give The Cyrkle an opportunity to reconnect with our wonderful and loyal fan base, but hopefully bring in a new collection of Cyrkle fans to the fold.
Coston: Anything that you would like to add?
PM: Just want all of the die-hard fans to know that the newer members of the band truly appreciate what The Cyrkle means to them. It is a banner we proudly and willingly carry, and that we will do all we can, and more, to ensure that we give then one more important album for them to enjoy and hopefully cherish.
ML: I can’t wait to get back out on the road again and perform for all of those fans who have been unbelievably receptive to the reunited group!
DD: I’m very thankful to be in good health and good voice. It is a thrill and an honor that at 77 years old, I’m still able to perform and able to meet and share stories of what “Red Rubber Ball” has meant to so many fans.
Long Time Lovin’ You – Interview with John Schwab of McGuffey Lane
Reflections on Charlie Daniels and more from Ohio’s country rock group with two Top 100 singles in the 1980s
BY DANIEL COSTON
Even in 2020, chances are that John Schwab will be playing a gig somewhere this week. The longtime guitarist, vocalist and leader of Ohio’s country-rock legends McGuffey Lane, John has stayed on the move for fifty years. Be it with McGuffey Lane, solo or with a variety of groups, Schwab has continued to play to fans, whether in bars or cruises, or venues big and small. John first joined McGuffey Lane in 1977, after several years of playing in a variety of groups. The Columbus, Ohio band’s first album, released in 1980, led to a contract with Atco /Atlantic, and touring across the United States. Despite having fans around the world, Schwab and McGuffey Lane have stayed loyal to Ohio, where the band and Schwab still resides. Schwab has also held on to an independent spirit, releasing the well-received One More for The Road album in 2015. The world may be rocky, but John is still rolling.
Coston: You’ve stayed busy this year, playing solo and duo gigs.
JOHN SCHWAB: I was originally a solo act. I was playing solo, opening for McGuffey Lane in 1976. I’d sworn that I was never going to be in another band again. It happened organically. They had separately started joining my set, and then I realized they were all up there jamming with me, and I thought, “I guess I’m in the band now.” Like everyone else my age, I knew I wanted to play guitar when I first saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was playing in bars when I was sixteen, six nights a week gigs in these dive bars. My mom talked my dad into it, because she saw how driven I was. She said, “As long as you make it to school every day, we’ll let you do it.” Six nights a week, nine to two, at a place forty miles from here. Coming back, sleeping from 3:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., then getting up for school. I didn’t do anything else, because I didn’t want to take a chance on ruining it. I learned to sleep in study hall with my elbows on my book, like I was reading. When I was at Ohio University in 1970, the Kent State shootings happened, and then they closed OU. Suddenly, I was back home in my old bedroom, wondering “What do I do now?” Some guy called me up, and said, “We heard you’re in town. We’ve got a gig in Wisconsin.” It was one of the greatest summers in my life. That was like, freedom. I went from having ten dollars a week at OU, to having 250 bucks a week. I was living! And I was free.
Coston: The place in Columbus that McGuffey Lane really first made their mark was at Zachariah’s Red Eye Saloon.
JS: It had three stories, like Carnegie Hall, but it wasn’t anything fancy like that. It was open, so that the people on the third floor are looking at you with rapt attention. Second floor and first floor, you’re surrounded by people. It was just a perfect place.
Coston: What did it feel like when the band was on the rise, and everything was working?
JS: Just pure excitement. I kind of had a vision of what I wanted to do. I had been playing with this duo, prior to that. When I saw McGuffey Lane, I said, “Those guys are doing what I want to do.” That was probably a year and a half before I ever joined. They were more acoustic. I had started in bands as a lead guitar player, so I brought more of the rock edge to their country. It was just a high, to have a thousand people every night you play. They would start lining up at four in the afternoon. We didn’t play until ten. They would be sitting on High Street, across from the Ohio State campus. To drive past it, to see that, it was exciting stuff.
Coston: Suddenly, it’s like you’re in The Beatles.
JS: The crowd response was like that. After our first album release, we did our first theater show at The Palace Theater. The show was booked for December, and it was sold out in September. The night of the gig, John Lennon had passed away five days before, and we had planned a little tribute to him for our encore. Somebody was messing around with the projector to make sure that his picture would come up, and they accidentally flashed on the McGuffey Lane logo behind the stage, and the crowd started going nuts. We didn’t start for ten minutes. We were still in our dressing room, and they didn’t stop. Just on their feet, screaming. It was unbelievable.
Coston: McGuffey Lane recorded their first album on their own.
JS: We almost did the album three different times and scraped it and started again. We were learning as we went. We weren’t studio cats. Then we hooked up with Gary Platt. He was co-producer on it. We didn’t know what that was when we started. We went down to Cincinnati. We were recording during the day and playing at night. To get out of town and do it really helped us.
Coston: You sold 40,000 copies on your own label.
JS: And that was only in two or three months. We sold 10,000 the first week. If only we could’ve had iTunes back then.
Coston: Atco then signed the band, but they wanted to push you more into the country charts.
JS: We wanted a record deal so bad. The record deal was the end all, we didn’t see past that. It’s something we should have discussed.
Coston: You toured with a lot of different bands, including The Charlie Daniels Band, who also guested on your second album.
JS: Playing with Charlie, we got to know the band. That was a really good combination. He had us on five of the Volunteer Jams, down in Nashville. Sitting in a dressing room with The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, Billy Joel, James Brown, Amy Grant, Tanya Tucker, and David Lee Roth. They were all in one big dressing room. Then the party at the Hyatt afterwards was nuts. Charlie had rented out the Hyatt, and all the bands were staying there. You’d go from room to room, and watch John Prine handing a guitar to Guy Clark. Hang out with Toy Caldwell and jam out with him in another room. Really fun stuff.
Coston: What are your recollections of touring with The Judds?
JS: They were so down to earth. We were doing a soundcheck, the first time we played with them. They walked out on stage, and said, “We wanna meet you hairy legged boys!” So we do our show, and then they are on stage, and Naomi comes walking by to change costumes, and she says, “Oh, hi John!” They remembered all of our names. The blood harmonies were amazing. Wynonna had the voice, and Naomi had the charisma.
Coston: Talk about the One More for The Road album that you made in 2015.
JS: That’s probably one of my favorite albums that I’ve ever been involved with. When I started playing with Molly Pauken in 1992, I told her that I wanted her to learn these Sinatra songs. She later joined McGuffey Lane in 1996. I finally decided to go ahead and do it. I was talking to a buddy who I knew, and he loved Sinatra, too. I was telling that I wanted to do this project, and use session guys, and just knock it out. He said, “How much?” I told him what I thought it would cost, and he said, “No problem.” We got some airplay on NPR, and ironically, the song that people picked was the only original on the album, that I wrote. It’s not a Sinatra tribute. It’s me trying to make those songs my own.
Coston: Do you think that you could have done that record thirty years ago?
JS: No, absolutely not. I wouldn’t have been ready to do it when I was first talking to Molly about it. It was definitely the time.
Coston: Was there a point where you decided, I don’t need to do the national tours, all the time? I want to tour closer to home.
JS: That was a decision I made when the band first broke up in 1990. I was sick of the rolling frat house. I made the decision to stay closer to home. I have such a strong market here. I’m so lucky to be able to do that, and not travel so much. Although we have made a few trips to England in the past few years. There were people that wanted to bring us over there, but that was all first class.
Coston: Even when you were breaking nationwide, you were still playing around Ohio. What made you decide to keep playing smaller venues closer to home?
JS: We were able to make a lot of money in Ohio, and then spend it all going to Louisiana and Texas. We were able to get tour support back then, and they expected us to tour to support those albums. We supported it by playing around Ohio. And that’s where our fanbase was. We wanted to keep playing for those people. In 1976, there was a local magazine around here called Focus Magazine, and they named me Best Local Solo Performer. And in 2020, I just won Best Local Solo Performer with 614, the new magazine in this area. That’s a pretty good span.
I've recently been joining discussions about music, the Beatles, Beach Boys, and many more groups with Plastic EP, who is based out of Melbourne, Australia. It's really fun to talk about these subjects with other professional music nerds. Here's our latest discussion, about the Beatles Decca Audition session.
Enjoy, and check back for more discussions soon.
August 24, 2021